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2012 AL Outfielder Keeper Rankings: Fifth — and Final — Tier

We’ve made it to the end, friends. Yes, it’s the fifth — and final — tier of the RotoGraphs keeper rankings for 2012, American League outfielder style. No doubt, owners in very (very!) deep AL-only keeper leagues may notice a name or two that they are considering as potential keepers isn’t included among the full ranks. As is, there are more players included at this position than at most others, so frankly, I’m choosing to cut things off before we have to consider debating the relative keeper merits of a recently-injured Josh Reddick, a 54-year-old Bobby Abreu and a utilityman disguised as an outfielder who goes by the name of Ryan Raburn. You’ll forgive me, won’t you? (Either that or ask me your remaining conundrums in the comments.)

If you’ve followed along this far: Congratulations! You’ve been entered to win a prize of some as yet determined, but ultimately inconsequential, value. Thanks for playing.

Let’s finish this puppy off.

To look back at the previous tiers of AL OF keepers, click on any of the following: Tier One, Tier Two, Tier Three, Tier Four

Here’s a recap of the names in each tier so far:

Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
Curtis Granderson, Yankees
Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox
Josh Hamilton, Rangers

Nelson Cruz, Rangers
Desmond Jennings, Rays
Carl Crawford, Red Sox

Ben Zobrist, Rays
Alex Gordon, Royals
B.J. Upton, Rays
Shin-Soo Choo, Indians
Nick Swisher, Yankees
Adam Jones, Orioles
Carlos Quentin, White Sox

Peter Bourjos, Angels
Brett Gardner, Yankees
Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners
Howie Kendrick, Angels
Michael Cuddyer, Free Agent
Torii Hunter, Angels
Josh Willingham, Free Agent
Mark Trumbo, Angels

Now for TIER FIVE…

Matt Joyce, Rays
Hey, remember when Joyce was the breakout star of 2011? Yeah, he wound up being very good value overall, but his final stats — .277 BA, 19 HRs, 75 RBIs, 69 runs — seem a lot worse than you probably expected. Part of that is because the 27-year-old started so hot through May (.370 BA, 9 HRs, 30 RBIs), and part of that is because he finished so terribly over the second half (.259, 7, 34). What accounted for the disparity? Put simply: BABIP. Joyce’s was over .400 through two months, then dropped to a more realistic .301 after the break. I like him, but he still can’t hit lefties (.657 OPS vs. LHPs), so he’s more of a useable OF4/5 that an active owner will start only against righties (.866 OPS). In short, don’t be fooled into thinking he’s better than he is.

Brennan Boesch, Tigers
If only this guy could avoid the disaster second half, amiright? I wrote about this just after the All-Star break last season, and while my conclusion — Boesch will be fine — didn’t quite work out, it wasn’t so much due to his performance as it was a torn ligament in his right thumb that required surgery and forced him to miss the final month-plus of 2011. Fact is, Boesch, 26, can handle lefties (.319 BA, .851 OPS) and really enjoyed hitting in the third spot ahead of Miguel Cabrera (.339/.379/.575 with 43 runs in 186 ABs). If that arrangement continues, Boesch could be in line for a rather productive 2012, along the lines of not one but two halves like the first three months of 2011, when he hit .306-12-44.

Jeff Francoeur, Royals
If we found out tomorrow that Francoeur swapped bodies with the next guy on this list last season, I would feel so much better about life, for so many reasons. Fact of the matter is, Frenchy had a really strong fantasy performance in 2011, coming away with a 20-20 effort, while hitting .285. Nothing fundamental changed, as the 27-year-old still walked at a too-low rate (5.6% BB), and his BABIP (.323) was slightly up but not to the point where it should be noted as a red flag. Really, the big change was the steals — after never before hitting double-digits, Francoeur swiped 22, thanks to the Royals’ aggressive baserunning approach. It’s funny, but the marriage that everyone predicted then laughed at when it happened may actually be just the thing for Francoeur, since the Royals can afford to trot out Francoeur 150 times a year and let him do his thing. I’m expecting some dropoff, probably more to 15-20 HRs and 15 SBs, and I don’t think I’d be targeting Francoeur as a guy who finally “got it” by any means, but everyday PT might just be the next fantasy market inefficiency.

Alex Rios, White Sox
I’ll admit I was probably slower to cut bait on Rios than most last year. Probably because I was invested in him in an AL keeper and kept hoping my positive thinking would actually get through to him. Or something. Looking back at it now — jeez, I can’t even bring myself to print any stat beyond his putrid .613 OPS — I hate myself just a little bit. I’ll say this, though: His .237 BABIP was the second-worst in baseball, so he’ll see a bounceback, if only by default. Still, if you own him in a keeper, he most likely costs way more in draft round/dollar value than you want to spend — and maybe twice as much as you can get him for at the next draft/auction — so feel free to toss him back. In 2012, I’m certainly not hitching any wagons to the soon-to-be 31-year-old, but I might try to acquire him on the cheap, in a role that isn’t going to hurt me if he falls on his face again. Then if he approaches 20-20, I’ll chalk it up to his trying to make things up to me.

Nick Markakis, Orioles
Most of my thoughts on Markakis haven’t changed since I wrote this back in May. And while I acknowledge the 28-year-old did bounce back slightly to post a .284/.351/.406 slash line, it was mostly hollow because he tacked on just 15 HRs and 12 SBs with only 72 runs and 73 RBIs. Basically, there’s nothing to get excited about with Markakis, who has become little more than a passable “accruer,” by which I mean a player you have to keep in your lineup to squeeze as much production out of him as possible. Since he doesn’t excel in any one category, it’s not as if you can simply plug him in on any given day and hope for a three-run homer or a two-steal outing, like you might be able to do with a specialist player off your bench. Essentially, he’s the fantasy equivalent of Chinese water torture.

Colby Rasmus, Blue Jays
So who saw that coming? Actually, don’t mean to brag, but two thumbs. Rasmus is obviously talented, but something isn’t quite right there yet. Those 20-20 seasons he was supposed to churn out are looking like empty dreams at the moment, especially since he’s never swiped more than 12. I’ll give him a semi-mulligan for the laughable numbers as a Blue Jay (.173/.201/.316), accounting for his “adjustment period” and “small sample size.” He’s going to be one of the more polarizing players to rank next year because the believers are still out there, but I fall decidedly on the have-to-see-it-to-believe-it side. The only reason he’s ranked above the rest of the names is because I’d rather gamble on upside of a toolsy 25-year-old than sink cost into a declining vet or an unsettled youngster.

Vernon Wells, Angels
Covered Wells last month, noting that he actually had a better season than you probably realized. At least in one respect (25 HRs). He’s getting old (33 this December), and he’s more of a liability than an asset. But if you’re at your wits’ end in an AL league where you can keep up to 10 guys and Wells’ price is dirt (say, $1-3), you could do worse than hanging onto a cheap 25-plus homers. And, hey, his MLB-worst .214 BABIP shows room for a bump in BA to the .250-.260 range, which is better than nothing.

Ben Revere, Twins
Purely a steals keep. If for some reason your league puts extra value on speed, then Revere might be one of the sneakiest keepers in AL play. His pop is poop* (.042 ISO), but he should be able to hold his own in the average and runs departments, thanks to his wheels. He’s capable of 50-plus swipes, just make sure you can make up the HRs and RBIs two-fold elsewhere.
*We can say that on RotoGraphs, right?

Jason Kubel, Free Agent
The problem with Kubel is people keep expecting more. Or rather, they keep expecting him to repeat his 2009 (.300-28-103). It’s not going to happen. He’s just injury-prone enough and just bad enough against lefties (.681 career OPS) not to get enough action. Now that he’s a free agent, there’s a chance he gets slightly more interesting if he moves to a better park and a better team, but you shouldn’t be keeping him in anything other than a deep AL-only where you can retain up to 10-15 players, you start five OFs and he’s really cheap.

Delmon Young, Tigers
I’ve never been a fan. I know the pedigree, but like Kubel, he’s really only had one strong season in 2010 (.298-21-112) that too many people bought as true breakouts, when the production was more of an aberration than a precursor of more good things to come. Some folks will see his late-season “surge” (which was all of a .756 OPS, by the way) after joining the Tigers and buy in. I could see a bump in his counting stats, provided he can stay healthy, but do not invest heavily.

Mike Trout, Angels
What exactly to do with Trout? I kept wanting to rank him higher than this because he’s Mike Effin’ Trout, but fact is, I think his 2012 will wind up being a bunch of fits and starts and more fits as he tries to squeeze out enough PT to matter in an overcrowded Angels outfield. Unless something changes between now and March, I fear Trout is doomed to see no more than 450 ABs, if that, and in such a scenario, a season along the lines of what teammate Peter Bourjos posted in 2011 — .271 BA, 12 HRs and 22 SBs — is about the upper boundary. Certainly, you’re keeping him in a dynasty league, maybe even in a keeper where his escalating cost will still make him fairly cheap for 2013, but I think Trout is going to spend most of 2012 swimming upstream. (Yes!)

Coco Crisp, Free Agent
Eric Thames, Blue Jays
Mitch Moreland, Rangers
Nolan Reimold, Orioles
Johnny Damon, Free Agent
Mike Carp, Mariners
Austin Jackson, Tigers
Juan Pierre, Free Agent
Denard Span, Twins
Dayan Viciedo, White Sox
Casper Wells, Mariners